What should my real estate or mortgage website cost?

by 09 Nov 2011
[caption id="attachment_6686" align="alignleft" width="260" caption="website development"]website development[/caption]

(TheNicheReport.com) If you’re baffled by the bits-and-bytes geekspeak about driving mortgage or real estate leads from the Internet, I’m hoping this article simplifies things for you and makes your day.

You can get a site for free, or pay $50,000 for a custom design.  What’s the difference? Where are you getting snake oil versus necessary value? What questions should you ask in building or upgrading your site, and how does a non-technical person manage a technical process?  This article will help you understand some of these issues so you can be informed when talking to your web designer. No more feeling like you’re bringing your car to the mechanic, praying that you’re not getting ripped off.

The Bottom Line

Unless you have unique needs—some special requirements for your site that no other broker or agent in the country has—there’s no need to custom-build anything.  Almost everything you can ask for has already been built out there and it’s free, despite what someone will want to charge you for.

And since BlitzLocal is in the business of charging for services, why would we reveal this to you?  Because you should only be paying for two things: advertising (to get people to your site) and training/support (when a human must get involved to troubleshoot something, create some artwork, or do some other non-automatable task).  Everything else should be free. 

This wasn’t the case three years ago, by the way, before the explosion of open-source software that now powers most of the Internet.  Like nearly everyone else, you’ll probably want:

  • To update the site content yourself as easily as sending an email: That’s where open source tools like WordPress come in handy. This pre-built website framework (called a content management system) is used by the largest sites on the planet.  It’s free, has no catch, and offers thousands of more free templates you can choose from. WordPress has put many web designers out of business, as firms can get better quality pre-made sites for FREE.  Plus, you’re not locked into an expensive maintenance contract any time you want to make a small change (more on this below).
  • To get lots of targeted traffic: What good is a beautiful, information-rich site if nobody can find it?  Many firms will charge anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars a month for something called SEO (Search Engine Optimization), which is the promise that you’ll get found at the top of Google when someone searches for “Denver home loans”.  Don’t go for that.  To get people to your site, you have to either purchase advertising on Google, Facebook, or elsewhere (called Pay Per Click marketing) or you have to rank for it by getting people to link to you.  Since you’re looking for mortgage leads, your best bet is to use a free SEO plug-in (more below), get other sites to link to you, and do some advertising.  In short, don’t pay anyone a dollar for SEO services if you’re a mortgage broker.  SEO is valuable, for sure, but generally not affordable or viable if you’re not a national chain in this industry.
  • A killer landing page: Once you get someone to your site, you don’t want to waste that hard-earned visit.  The page better not look like one of those generic ones seen on parked domains.  It should have pictures of you (so they know you’re real), testimonials of your clients (to build trust), and your phone number better be HUGE and in the upper corner of your site, and again at the bottom.  You should shoot for one phone call generated for every 10 visits—any less than that and you might have a “conversion” problem with your landing pages – that is, a page that isn’t compelling or clear enough to get the visitor to do what you desire.
  • A social presence: Doing most of your business via word of mouth?  Great!  Now make sure that you’re integrating Facebook and Twitter with your site so that your website can be your ally to help spread the word about your business.  Have your friends and friends of friends think of YOU when it’s time to refinance or get that commercial loan.
  • Tracking: Do you know how your website is performing -- where people are coming from, what they’re doing on the site, how your various marketing campaigns are doing, how many people are filling out contact forms, how many phone calls are coming in?  Google Analytics, like WordPress, is FREE, easy to use, and also the best tool out there.  No catch, really.  For call tracking, you can even use Google Voice, which does message transcription for free, too.

 Software, for the most part, is now free. What you should be paying for is advertising and certain kinds of labor.  If you’re paying someone to build software for you, something is likely wrong.  You’re probably building a custom inferior copy of something that is already out there for free. And your “custom” software suffers from debilitating bugs, since it hasn’t been battle-tested by millions of users.

Plus, you’re not in the business of building custom websites.  You’re here to drive leads and service clients.  If you wanted to be the best cab driver inNew York City, would you set out to build your own automobile?   No, you’d focus on offering the best service and being the most knowledgeable.  As a mortgage professional, you will win on service and great information, as opposed to having unique website coding.

Here are the kinds of things that you would pay for in building and managing your website:

  • Hosting: You have to have your site somewhere—and you don’t want to be in the hosting business, trying to deal with maintaining your own servers. Choose bluehost, dreamhost, or GoDaddy for between $5 and $10 a month—most will install WordPress for you for free and you can easily pick what template to start with.
  • Design: Not talking about $50,000 design projects, though our firm certainly does those for some large brands who want to pay and need to be unique. For you, consider getting a custom-made landing page that has your images and your content for perhaps $100 via elance.com, rentacoder.com or another freelancer site. There are folks who make skins for WordPress for a living and it’s worth $100 for you to do this.  Maybe get some banners made for $20 each. The trick here is finding a good designer and knowing how to manage them. Look at their portfolios and feedback ratings to tell. If they’re based in theUnited States, expect to pay about 5 times as much.  There are pros and cons here.  You can get great work offshore provided you are VERY specific about your requirements—ideally, by asking them to mimic someone else’s design you like, then tweaking from there.
  • Advertising: This is where you should be spending most of your money, but not before you have a site worth sending traffic to.  Don’t turn on the faucet until you know that the pipes aren’t leaking.   The evolution of free software has gone from basic infrastructure (operating systems and web servers) to point solutions (content management systems and analytics), but hasn’t gotten there for advertising tools yet.  Thus, you’ll have to pay someone to run your advertising for you or learn how to do it yourself.

If you don’t want to find a hosting company, hire a designer, and find someone to run your campaigns, there are firms that will do all of this for a management fee.  Even if you plan to hire someone, I’d recommend that you learn about how these processes work. It will help you better understand what your firm is doing for you and identify where you’re not getting the right service, being overcharged, or why, after the project’s done, you still might not be getting a good return on your investment.

Imagine you’re going to a car dealership to get your oil changed.  They want to charge you $3,000 to change your oil because they want to make some custom oil for your car ($2,000) and bring in a mechanic to do this ($1,000).  Assuming you don’t have an exotic, which often do have $1,000 oil change bills, you’d probably look at the sales rep and ask “$3,000 to change the oil on my 2007 Toyota Camry?  Could you break that down for me?”  And if the mechanic replies with some mumbo jumbo about how your car is a very sophisticated machine that requires precise care—plus asks you if you value your safety and that of your children, such that you want to get your oil change done right, what do you say?

I hope this is an eye-opener for you on the cost of websites, coming from an experienced “mechanic” who’s aware of what things should cost.

Remember: websites and software are free, while advertising and labor are not.  The keys to a successful site are advertising effectively to bring in qualified visitors to a website that has trustworthy content that you’ve written.

If you’re not a real estate or housing professional and you want to build something truly custom, these rules don’t apply. You’ll just have to see what software is available out there that already does what you want.

 Dennis Yu is Chief Executive Officer of BlitzLocal, which specializes in online lead gen for businesses that have a local presence. He is an internationally recognized author, having appeared on CBS Evening News, National Public Radio, KTLA, Entrepreneur Magazine, and other outlets. His blog is at dennis-yu.com and you can reach him at dennis@blitzlocal.com.


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